Huntington University remembers Coach K

Huntington, Ind.—Richard Klopfenstein, former athletic director and chair of the Physical Education Department at Huntington University, has passed away. He was 85.

Klopfenstein is recognized as the “founding father” of the Mid-Central College Conference, the athletic conference in which the Foresters still compete. Klopfenstein helped start the MCC in 1959 and served as the organization’s first president.

Richard Klopfenstein (right), 1964-1965 (Photo courtesy of the Huntington University archives)
“Coach K is a profound part of the Huntington University story,” said Dr. G. Blair Dowden, president of the university. “He was a leader in the discipline of physical education as the founding father of the MCC and the catalyst for the Merillat Physical Education and Recreation Complex. He had a tremendous impact on students – both athletes and non-athletes. He had a great love for the university and always showed care and concern for his students and colleagues. He will be greatly missed.”

In 1998, Klopfenstein was named a Distinguished Alumni in recognition of his 42 years of service to Huntington College as a professor, athletic director and coach. He was awarded professor emeritus status in 1987, but continued to coach golf until 1992. While at Huntington College, Klopfenstein coached a total of 80 seasons, including 33 years as golf coach, 15 years as men’s tennis coach, 13 years as men’s basketball coach, three years as baseball coach, and one year as women’s tennis coach. He won four MCC conference titles as golf coach and three as men’s basketball coach.

Richard Klopfenstein, 1972 (Photo courtesy of the Huntington University archives)
“In addition to coaching a variety of sports, Dick was an athlete in his own right,” said Dr. Carl Zurcher, Klopfenstein’s roommate in college and retired professor from Huntington University. “In later years, when younger coaches had taken over the major sports, he was invincible in badminton.”

One of his greatest badminton matches was against Channel 21 sportscaster Greg Johans in the “I Challenge Greg” series in 1986. At age 64, Klopfenstein beat Johans soundly, 15-3, 15-4.

Klopfenstein served 29 years as chair of the Physical Education Department and 25 years as athletic director. During his tenure as athletic director, he saw the sports program grow from two sports to 12, and he saw the facilities advance from a wooden-backboard old gym to the Merillat Physical Education and Recreation Complex now in use at the university. Klopfenstein chaired the Merillat Physical Education Center Building Committee.

Dr. E. DeWitt Baker and Richard Klopfenstein (right), 1981 (Photo courtesy of the Huntington University archives)
Klopfenstein made care of the athletic facilities at Huntington his personal mission, Zurcher said. “The ‘Barn,’ as the old gymnasium was called, was about all we had available in the way of indoor facilities. Dick’s office was in the old gymnasium, and he acted as guardian over the scant equipment we had. When a new floor was needed for the gymnasium, he led the way in raising money to fund it and also spent many hours on his knees, helping to put the floor in place.”

Richard Klopfenstein, 1964 (Photo courtesy of the Huntington University archives)
Reflecting on his career, Klopfenstein told the Huntington Herald-Press, “The Lord has been very good to me here. I haven’t regretted one hour of the time that I gave. I always felt that this was where the Lord wanted me, and where he wants you, there is contentment. It doesn’t say in the Scriptures that we will always be winners, but it does ask for total commitment.”

Klopfenstein came to Huntington College as a transfer student in 1942. He left Huntington to serve in the United States Army during World War II. For his service, he was awarded a battle star and a combat infantryman’s badge.

Richard Klopfenstein, 1964 (Photo courtesy of the Huntington University archives)
After his tenure in the Army, he returned to finish his degree at Huntington in 1948 and then taught and coached basketball for five years at Lafayette Central High School in Lafayette, Ind. He came back to the college in 1953 as the new athletic director.

In 1985, he was inducted into the Huntington College Athletic Hall of Fame, and in 1994, the new tennis courts were named in his honor. The plaque on the Klopfenstein Tennis Courts reads: “Huntington College recognizes Coach Klopfenstein’s commitment to God, to excellence in athletics, and to the individual development of students by naming the tennis courts in his honor.” He is a recipient of the Huntington College Centennial Medallion. The Richard Klopfenstein Scholarship was named in his honor. The Klopfenstein Classic Golf Outing, an annual Homecoming tradition, raises funds for the Huntington University baseball team.

Richard Klopfenstein (center) and Mary Klopfenstein, no date (Photo courtesy of the Huntington University archives)
Though Klopfenstein was the recipient of numerous awards and honors, he was most proud of his intangible achievements. “Perhaps the greatest satisfaction for me has been to watch young men and women enter college, grow and mature in academics, in the faith, socially, leadership-wise and athletically, and it brings me pleasure to have been a small part of their lives,” he said in an interview with the Herald-Press in the July 9, 1981, edition.

One of his students, Dr. Jerry Smith, serves as professor of physics and chemistry at Huntington University. Describing Klopfenstein as “a gracious gentleman,” Smith recalled a specific instance of his professor’s generosity: “When I was a student, Professor Klopfenstein created a small Saturday afternoon physical education class for some of us who had Saturday morning chemistry labs because of other scheduling conflicts. I will always remember the time he took me aside after seeing the tape wrapped around my shoes to hold the shoes together, and found a pair of good used shoes from the basketball team.”

Not only did he mentor students, but Klopfenstein also offered guidance to faculty and staff in his roles as chair of the Physical Education Department and athletic director.

“I certainly appreciated the willingness of then President Dr. E. DeWitt Baker and Department Chair Dick Klopfenstein for their encouragement and the opportunity to begin my teaching profession at Huntington University,” said Dr. Pat Zezula who retired from the university in 2006 after 37 years of service.

Tom King, head coach of the men’s and women’s cross country and track and field teams, said Klopfenstein made a strong impression on him as a colleague. “Coach Klopfenstein is one of the best examples of what Huntington University is about – man of God, great faith and lived his life that way. Wow, the young people that he has touched!”

Klopfenstein earned a Bachelor of Science degree from Huntington College in 1948, master’s degrees in physical education and education from Indiana University in 1952 and director’s degrees in physical education and recreation from Indiana University in 1953.

He married Mary M. Steiner on July 30, 1948, in Woodburn. The Klopfensteins are the parents of three daughters, Judy Roberts, Karen Klopfenstein and Ann Willey, and have six grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.

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Huntington University is a comprehensive Christian college of the liberal arts offering graduate and undergraduate programs in more than 70 academic concentrations. U.S.News & World Report ranks Huntington among the best colleges in the Midwest. Founded in 1897 by the Church of the United Brethren in Christ, Huntington University is located on a contemporary, lakeside campus in northeast Indiana. The University is a member of the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities (CCCU).  


Heather Barkley
Director of Communications
Joanne Green
Sports Information Director